This week, the addition of The Milk District to the Orlando Main Streets program was approved by City Council. Tommy Barger, the owner of Space Bar and president of The Milk District Board, and Falon Quillen, owner of Etoile Boutique and the district’s promotion committee chair, offer insight into the Milk District’s history and how it will benefit from participating in the Orlando Main Streets program.
In 1925, a local Rollins College graduate by the name of Thomas Gilbert Lee decided to go into the dairy business. He purchased some land on the corner of Bumby Avenue and Colonial Drive to build his pasture.
Just starting out and unable to afford employees, Lee alone milked, bottled and shipped all of his product, often working 16-20 hour days to make ends meet. In 1955 after years of hard work, Lee sold 20 of his 56 acres to a New York real estate group and took the money to build a processing plant on the remaining 36 acres of land. Who would have known that a milk factory would become such an inspiration more than 50 years later?
One afternoon in 2008, a group of local residents and the owners of businesses (including Tommy) near the T.G. Lee plant, came up with the name The Milk District while brainstorming what to call this community that they were building.
That year, after winning some awards in Orlando Weekly’s Best Of edition, the neighborhood decided to launch The Milk District name with a thank you flyer to the community. The response to the name was amazing, from patrons and business owners alike. And now having an identity, suddenly everyone wanted in. It was the start of something great.
Later that year, we learned about the City’s new Orlando Main Streets program, launched by Mayor Buddy Dyer. We met with City staff to tell them about the positive changes happening on Robinson Street. We wanted The Milk District to become an Orlando Main Street. Unfortunately, due to the recession, funds were not available to make that happen, and everything came to a halt.
In the years that followed, some businesses closed, some changed ownership and even more new businesses opened. With the addition of new businesses, The Milk District started to grow beyond Robinson Street, and outwardly to Primrose, Bumby and down to South Street.
Neighborhood events such as Tasty Tuesdays in The Milk District were created to raise money for the neighborhood and raise even more awareness of the community. We were building an area for artists, families and entrepreneurs to lay down their roots. Before we knew it, The Milk District was becoming a widely recognized cultural hub for Orlando through food, music, art and fashion.
Flash forward to 2016, after eight years of building our brand as a DIY community, The Milk District is finally becoming the 10th Orlando Main Streets district. Thanks to help from Mayor Dyer, Orlando Main Streets administrator Pauline Eaton, District 2 City Commissioner Tony Ortiz and District 4 City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, The Milk District will receive financial assistance, technical support and training to foster growth and prosperity among the small businesses within the district.
We’re so proud that a district founded on independence has stayed true to its roots and become a united group of small businesses with great ambitions. The hashtag #alocalthing certainly fits with The Milk District.
We’re more excited than ever to see what is in store for our community in the years to come. And we want to begin this next chapter the same way that we started it all – with a thank you to all of our supporters.